BBC Title: French anti-Islamophobia organization seen moving closer to neo-Salafists
From 2004 until May 2014 / Archive.Today, the Association against Islamophobia in France (French: Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France / CCIF) used a logo with the two Cs of its acronym put back to back to make an S. The result reads ‘sif’ which means ‘sword’ in Arabic, the sword that can be found on the Saudi flag, for example. It represents the military conquests of the past. A 90-degree clockwise rotation makes the observation of the sword easier (the letter F). The Google Translator with audio offers the option to listen to the word in Arabic.
After being sued for ‘Islamophobia’ by the CCIF in 2013, Figaro’s journalist, Ivan Rioufol, referred to the CCIF logo in his defense to demonstrate the Islamist and supremacist agenda of this organization.
* * * * *
Authors: Sylvain Mouillard and Bernadette Sauvaget
Source: Libération, April 3, 2016
ENGLISH TRANSLATION BY THE BBC (BBC Monitoring Europe)
French original title: Au Collectif contre l’islamophobie, de la suite dans les données (Data Coherence at the Association Against Islamophobia) / WebArchive – Archive.Today
BBC English title: French anti-Islamophobia organization seen moving closer to neo-Salafists
The CCIF [Association against Islamophobia in France], created to record anti-Muslim acts and to help the victims, is suspected of supporting political Islam and a plan for a segregated society.
The courtyard is gloomy but discreet. First, one must go through a heavy iron door and then climb a staircase. In the evening, after work, computers are carefully put away in a safe place. People at the Association against Islamophobia in France mostly fear the theft of data. “We have many enemies,” says Samy Debah, the founder and (still) president of the association whose job it is to draw up a list of anti-Muslim acts and provide legal assistance to the victims. It has been on the sights of the extreme right and of the community-based movement for a long time. Moreover, Samy Debah asks his visitors not to reveal the CCIF’s Paris address. The atmosphere has become even more strained since the November terrorist attacks. Political accusations have fallen thick and fast on the association, which is suspected of promoting political Islam. Manuel Valls strongly criticized Jean-Louis Bianco, the president of the Secularism Observatory, for having signed an opinion piece alongside the CCIF; an organization that, according to the prime minister, is allegedly participating in spreading a “nauseating atmosphere” in France.
The association’s history is closely mixed with Samy Debah’s own path. Even though successive spokesmen have embodied the association in the media, he is the CCIF’s real boss. He is a qualified secondary school history teacher and he is both one of the players as well one of the successes of second generation immigrant children who returned to Islam in the 1990s. “We were thirsting for knowledge and we listened to all the great figures of the time,” he says. In those years, Debah was alternately a preacher with the Tabligh (an ultra-fundamentalist and proselytization movement) and one of the Ile-de-France organizers of the conference tours made by theologian Tariq Ramadan, who is accused of being close to the Muslim Brotherhood. A burdensome apprenticeship? “Samy Debah was never a member of Tariq Ramadan’s inner circle,” underscores someone who knows the French Muslim scene well. Yet, the accusations of double-dealing live on. Among the recurring accusations: playing on extreme victimization and secretly standing up for a segregated society.
There is no doubt that the CCIF has its own political agenda. It is clearly calling for a repeal of the 2004 law banning the wearing of religious symbols in school and the 2010 law that prohibits the wearing of full length veils in public places. Samy Debah assumes this. “These are Islamophobic laws and, as such, we fight against them. Just like all those that may come regarding wearing veils in a business or at the university.” Should it, for all that, be made out to be an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood? “It is not a crime to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but I am not one,” argues Debah. In fact, the association was created at the turn of the 2000s and it has never had an organizational connection with the Union of France’s Islamic Organizations [UOIF], the French branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. So, where does this suspicion come from? The president of the association does not deny his admiration for Tariq Ramadan, who is still today one of the distinguished guests at CCIF gala dinners. All the same however, he tempers his influence. “I am a product of a French public school education. That is where I acquired my political culture.”
“Principle of Secularism”
The CCIF drums up support far and wide in its annual fund-raising ceremony. The May 2015 dinner (admission ticket 200 euros), which was hosted by comedian Yassine Belattar, brought together leading figures such as Pascal Boniface, the director of the International and Strategic Relations Institute (IRIS), Alain Gresh, former editor in chief of Le Monde diplomatique, as well as Houria Bouteldja, spokeswoman of Natives of the Republic, a movement that presents itself as “de-colonial” but is regularly accused of being anti-Semitic. Rachid Abou Houdeyfa, an imam in Brest who maintains that children who listen to music are going to be “transformed into pigs,” or imam Abou Anas, a leading Salafist figure in the Paris region, took part in 2014. Yasser Louati, the CCIF’s new spokesman accepts this: “We cannot agree with some participants but they did not break the law.” His critics, he refers them to his association’s statutes, which promote “the principle of equality between men and women” and “the principle of secularism, as it was understood by Aristide Briand and Jean Jaures.”
The CCIF struggled to make a name for itself in France before it became a subject of controversy. It was launched in October 2003 with an improvised demonstration of at least 30 people in front of the offices of the weekly magazine le Point after editorialist Claude Imbert made some incisive statements: “One has to be honest. For my part, I am a little Islamophobic. It does not bother me to say it.” In spite of the virulent debates that were occupying France on wearing the veil in school, the years that followed were somewhat like time spent in the wilderness. “It was a group of students. Samy Debah was practically alone keeping the CCIF stand at Muslim gatherings,” recalls an eyewitness from the early days.
Recognition would come from overseas. “In Anglo-Saxon [English speaking] countries, the issue of Islamophobia was much more liberal,” underscores Bernard Godard, one of the best experts on Islam in France. In 2005, a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) toured France. The CCIF was invited by the Quai d’Orsay [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and it made an impression. Although its work was still hesitant, the association was alone in systematically recording anti-Muslim acts in France. The OSCE anointed the CCIF by inviting it to its yearly meeting on the condition of human rights. The United Nations Economic and Social Council granted it the status of consulting member. The association then created a worldwide network for itself. “People started talking more and more about us. Sociologists and journalists – especially foreigners – came to meet with us,” the CCIF founder explains. Vincent Tiberj, a Sciences-Po sociologist backs this: “Anti-Muslim acts had long been a blind spot of anti-racism associations. The CCIF notably succeeded in raising this awareness.”
The association’s prominence grew in step with French tensions over Islam. The cornerstone year was 2010. During the regional election campaign, Marine Le Pen seized upon the subject of secularism to transform the extreme right’s old anti-Arab racism into today’s more promising anti-Muslim crusade. Meanwhile the CCIF became more professional. It found itself an effective spokesman in the person of Marwan Muhammad, a professional statistician who is now the executive director. “I was a volunteer and I did the translations into English. I gauged the extent and the seriousness of Islamophobia,” he says. “There was a discrepancy between the reality and what the media reported.” He is a kind of spiritual son to Samy Debah.
“Marwan brought the methodology that was lacking at the CCIF. At the same time, he radicalized it by stressing the victimization aspect of the rhetoric,” indicates one observer. Thanks to the financial support from American billionaire George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, the association launched a vast communication campaign in 2012 that made a lot of noise and controversy: “We (Too) Are the Nation.”
The CCIF, which now employs eight persons, has increased its media reach. The publication of its annual report is now an event, even though its figures on Islamophobic acts can be inflated. The target of criticism: a qualification of Islamophobia that, at times, is very broad. For the CCIF, for example, the 2004 expulsion of an imam who justified violence against women was listed as an Islamophobic act. Even today, the CCIF’s statistics are in sharp discrepancy with those from the Ministry of the Interior: more than 900 acts reported in 2015, according to the association, compared with 429, according to the authorities. According to Yasser Louati, there is nothing astonishing in this. “The ministry only bases itself on complaints filed. We also work on the basis of administrative disputes or issues that are handled through arbitration.” The CCIF stipulates moreover that of the approximately “2,500 requests” put to it last year, more than half did not result in an Islamophobic qualification.
This squabbling over figures should not conceal the semantic battle around the term “Islamophobia” that is at least as important. Some of the CCIF’s detractors – and notably a part of the left that is attached to the idea of strict secularism – accuse it of preempting this term and thus “nipping in the bud” any in-depth debate on Islam and its values. Hence, the tensions surrounding statements such as the one made by Elisabeth Badinter: “One should not be afraid to be called Islamophobic.” Yet the work done by the association was considered useful by the National Consultative Commission on Human Rights [CNCDH], which hears it regularly and which decided to institutionalize the term ‘Islamophobia” in 2013: “The objective was to have a term other than anti-Muslim acts in order to account for a worrisome atmosphere: rejection of Islamic practices that does not necessarily translate into committing a criminal offence,” explains its president, Christine Lazerges, who admits to “not understanding” the distrust of the CCIF. The association collaborates with another official institution, the Defender of Rights [ombudsman], headed by Jacques Toubon, whose members praise the seriousness of the data provided by the CCIF. Also, Samy Debah was invited to the Ministry of the Interior in June 2015 to participate in the new dialogue forum, which was set up by Bernard Cazeneuve’s team; but not on 21 March for the day devoted to fighting radicalization.
The CCIF, armed with its 4,000 members and its “crowdfunding” [English in text] experience, has established its foundations and its independence. “Financially, we were on survival mode up until last year,” explains Debah without unveiling his organization’s annual budget. “The operational core is solid.” Today, the CCIF is strengthening its links with the French neo-Salafist movement embodied by Baraka City, the Islamic nongovernmental organization, or the digital activist, Al Kanz. After 13 November, they signed a joint communique entitled: “Together, Stronger than Ever.” An extract: “Like sentinels, we are watching, anxious to preserve what remains of living together.” The extension of the state of emergency and related administrative measures (searches, house arrests), which most often concern populations of North African origin, could further reinforce the CCIF’s influence.
Source: Liberation website, Paris, in French 4 Apr 16
Point de Bascule: FILE Collectif contre l’islamophobie en France
Point de Bascule (February 26, 2016): Canada and NCCM / CAIR-CAN Executive Director Ihsaan Gardee at an OSCE Islamophobia conference in Vienna (The article contains a section about Marwan Muhammad who is now the CCIF Executive Director.)